Bringing Together Afghan Community Through Textile Art
By Emma Glover
The Tekah Tekah project (in Dari this translates to “Piece by Piece”) is a community textile art project designed to tell the stories of newly-arrived Afghan refugees based in the Bay Area. The program itself was first conceived in July of 2022. ARTogether spent the following five months designing the program, creating outreach materials, applying to grants, and meeting with community members before the first of four workshops was held in December 2022. Each workshop hosted 5-10 recently immigrated Afghan refugee women alongside two textile and visual Bay Area based refugee and immigrant artists, Afghan American artist Gazelle Samizay and Iranian artist Katayoun Bahrami.Leva Zand, ARTogether’s Executive Director, explained, “ARTogether has always wanted to work with Afghan women, so when we saw a grant opportunity with the California Arts Council, and we already knew the needs and interests of the Afghan refugee women, we applied for the grant.”
In these workshops, the Afghan women participants partnered with Gazelle and Katayoun to explore creative art forms such as embroidery, textile painting, cyanotypes, quilt-making, and visual storytelling. Together, they worked on individual art projects as well as a group quilt-making project, exploring themes such as storytelling, their personal backgrounds, worries, treasured memories, and more.
Additionally, ARTogether provided each participating Afghan woman with a stipend of $100 for each workshop, as well as food, refreshments, childcare, and transportation to and from each in-person workshop. Polina elaborated, “In my opinion, Tekah Tekah gave the women the support and time to take care of themselves. Even though it was only 2 hours once a month, having some time for yourself to relax, be around your community, be heard, and get support is vital. We provided childcare and transportation so the women could focus on the art, getting to know each other, and have a way to get to the workshops without a worry.”
Many of the participating Afghan women made lasting friendships and stayed connected to one another beyond the project. Polina shared, “Many of the obstacles felt throughout the pandemic – isolation, loss of community, depression and mental health – have long been endemic to refugee and immigrant communities. Impacted by relocation, cultural and language barriers, and systemic prejudice, refugees and immigrants have historically experienced high levels of PTSD, severe depression and other mental wellness issues. Tekah Tekah is designed as a new way to ease some of these difficulties.”
Polina revealed that one of the greatest rewards of putting this program together was watching the women become passionate about their crafts and bring the materials home to develop their skills and create new art. She added, they expressed that these art projects gave them something to look forward to, something creative to do at home that made their routine feel a little less mundane.
One participant, Rozia, shared, “ I really enjoyed coming to the events, I was the happiest with the group and I’m sad to go home to the routine and mundane reality.” Another participant, Nilab, expressed, I am sad/upset (My heart is aching) that this is ending and I won’t be seeing you [all] again.”
Polina shared with me, “As immigrants and refugees, we go through a lot of different losses: loss of your country, loss of your home, your relatives, loss of your routine and everything you were used to; it can be very difficult and almost feels like you are grieving. And in addition to that you are faced with the challenges and unfamiliarities that your new “home” is going to bring you. So, making it as easy as possible for them to get to the workshop was our priority. Meeting people from your community who understand what you are going through, sharing, chatting, creating art, and being in the moment provided them with an escape, a moment of peace, support and hopefully impacted them greatly in a positive way. That is why I think Tekah Tekah was such an important project and we hope to continue it as a women’s group in the future.
Emma Grover is a freelance writer from New York City who recently moved to the Bay Area after completing her degree in English and Creative Writing at Wesleyan University. She is passionate about the healing powers of written and artistic expression as well as highlighting the voices of underrepresented and diasporic writers like herself. She has a background in non-profit work and education.